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Coaching from afar: One technology coach’s perspective moving teachers into remote learning

04/19/2020 2:15 PM | MSET Webmaster (Administrator)


In the past four weeks, teachers have Zoomed and video conferenced more than ever imaginable. They have stressed over finding the share screen button or gotten upset when not seeing the same outcome on their screen after meticulously following each step in a training tutorial. Some emotions brought on tears and confusion while others get downright angry at the technology in front of them.

News stories and social media feeds address the needs for social and emotional health of children, but behind the scenes tech coaches are addressing the social, emotional, and technology needs of teachers and sometimes administrators too. In calm, encouraging manners technology personnel are navigating educators into new worlds of learning management systems (i.e., Schoology, Google Classrooms, Edmodo, etc.)— trying to mimic the normalcy of the classroom.

Many educators never desired the skill set to work in an entirely digital environment because it was not needed or so they thought. Taking those years of developing character voices and dramatic pauses to engage little ones in a read aloud is a skill like no other, but making that happen through the lens of a recording device is different.

Elementary teachers are asking, Do I show myself as a I read with my spectacular facial expressions or do I show the pages of the books to help child and parent follow along when recording part of a lesson? Uploading the best read aloud in front of the best homeschool backdrop with the cutest fur baby is a shattered memory when a student cannot open the file because it’s not compatible with their device or file doesn’t want to open. Hours, recording and re-recording, are lost in frustration. Teachers immediately reach out to a help desk or tech coach wanting a quick answer because students are waiting to receive their instruction.

As time goes by working one-on-one with a teacher, emails, phone calls, and text messages amount into hours of follow-up. Talking with hundreds of people across my own district, many that I never knew, I have developed five basic tips to support technology coaches as districts attempt to move their entire district into online learning.

Listen to Every Technology Problem

Understanding many schools are staffed with their own technology coach, teachers are used to having someone down the hall to immediately support there technology problem regardless of how big or small. When video conferencing or on the phone, it is important to speak calmly and ask clarifying questions to understand the problem and show they are important at that given moment.

Stay Simple – Three Click Rule

Tech folks love technology integration and toggling back-and-forth between tools; it’s our passion, but it is not always the same for the people we are serving. Try supporting your staff with the basic tools they needs to publish their content. Showcase the tools that your district already has purchased and teach them how they work in your learning management system. Already having some familiarity with the tools being used allows the transition into online learning to occur quicker for your teachers.

Once using those tools, try to limit the amount of clicks and tabs students are opening when possible. The best practice I have found is take away steps when you can. For example, instead of clicking into a program and opening a pair of folders to get a PDF file. Instruct your staff to download the PDF themself and directly insert into the online class for the student; eliminating the multiple steps might make it as easy as click one-login, click two-find the course, and click three—open PDF.

Teach How to Access Student View

Nothing looks the same on teacher and student view in most programs. Always take the time to show teachers how the product looks from the viewpoint of a student. In younger grades, parents are often homeschooling students and going through lessons with them as well. It is easier in the long run to take the extra time to “login as a student” and walk through the student view; it will help the teacher when addressing parents who have questions as online learning progresses.

Another common practice I have been doing is making how to videos from Student View and posting them for students and parents to follow. There are many screen recording programs (i.e., Screencastomatic, Screencastify, ShowMe, etc.) available for free to explore.  Sometimes what might seem as the simplest task can be difficult to a new online course user; it’s never a bad idea to walk through the steps and post that video into your classroom.

Amping Up Online Instruction

As days turn into weeks, teachers will dictate when they are ready to add more into their course. Tech coaches will observe this by receiving less frantic correspondences and a drastic cut in the volume of help requests; the requests will eventually turn into requests on how to review analytics of who is completing work and better ways to present a task for students online. At this point, teachers are building their technology capacity and ready to move onto more complex trainings.

As teachers are ready to move forward ask your mid-level technology people what they needs to improve their online classes. Teacher feedback will drive your future virtual trainings. But also remember, sometimes teachers may not know of tools that are out there. Also, it is okay to add some higher level trainings too like creating self-paced lesson with various tools (i.e., Nearpod, Peardeck, Kahoot) as many companies are offering their pro versions of software available during school closures.

Build Confidence By Following Up

When I worked as a classroom teacher, I would do a PR Friday where I would send postcards home to students each week. I would try to focus on the small moments and really build them up in a short handwritten note. As a tech coach, I am doing the same practice complimenting individual’s online classes and reassuring them how their hard work is benefiting students in their classrooms. The nostalgia of snail mail and getting a hand written note brings that sense of human interaction that has been missing by schools being closed and many being in quarantine.

In all, remember everyone has an important role in meeting the needs of students and staff during the recent school closure. Everyone comes to work with a different set of circumstances when working from home and meeting those needs will not be the same for every teacher. Take your time, have passion, and show grace as we are all in it together as we move into online learning.


Brian Cook (@drbriancook) formerly served as a middle school language arts teacher before moving into his current position as the District Instructional Technology & Innovation Coach in Worcester County Public School (MD).


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